A summit with a program that draws on the expertise of its attendees and provokes the exchange of ideas is surely the best platform from which to launch a bold new plan.
And so it was that the Monash alumni attending the 2018 Global Leaders’ Summit became the first people outside the University invited to join the conversation about an ambitious new project – the Monash Precinct.
The Monash Precinct is about imagining and building the future. It’s not a five or 10-year plan, but one that looks 20 years and more ahead.
And the vision?
For Monash University and the region surrounding it to develop into a world-class city centre globally recognised for the breadth and depth of research, the strong collaboration between industry, research and education, an enviable, quality lifestyle and a seamless, technically advanced connection to its immediate vicinity, the city around it and to the rest of the world.
Ben Vivekanandan, the Director of Precincts and Government at Monash, explained to the Global Leaders that the Monash Precinct isn’t just about Monash University, but about partners from industry and government and potential partners from the region around the University, as well as nationally and internationally.
This isn’t some form of blue-sky thought bubble. Monash University is currently at the centre of Victoria’s leading hub of employment, economic growth and innovation outside the Melbourne CBD. This region contributes $9.4 billion to the Victorian economy each year, supports more than 13,000 businesses and employs more than 82,000 people. It also represents a significant concentration of Victoria’s knowledge-based industries, particularly in the fields of education, health and advanced manufacturing.
In other words, the engine, the ecosystem and some of the infrastructure that will make the Monash Precinct a modern connected city centre already exists. It’s now a matter of making the connections and developing deep partnerships beyond the boundaries of the University.
Strength of collaboration
Monash President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner, AO, explained to the Global Leaders that it would be the strength and effectiveness of collaboration between the University and industry partners that will turbocharge the precinct.
“When you’re engaging in a space where there’s concentrated capability and there are people around you with their own capability, then you can build deeper partnerships,” she said. “We can do this through an open research agenda where we work together, almost in a sandbox way, where their industry people come to us and see all the research possibilities, and we go over and sit with them and look at what their real industrial problems are.
“It’s out of these kind of deep partnerships you get the sort of innovation that doesn’t come from knowing in advance what the project is.”
Breaking down boundaries
Ken Sloan, Monash Deputy-Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (Enterprise), told the summit that collaboration and the idea of breaking down boundaries between institutions so as to collectively do better was at the heart of the Monash Precinct.
“The reality is that we are in a location where there are pockets of development and innovation that are just simply not connected,” he said. “There are organisations within 10 minutes of this campus that have never had a relationship with Monash University and never felt the need for that relationship, and what’s the consequence of that?
“The knowledge that could be pooled between those organisations is potentially missed or lost and going elsewhere. We have 78,000 people at this university, and they need to be in a position where they can create jobs or be employed, and so many of them are not even considering the opportunities within this vicinity, or even within Victoria. They’re looking elsewhere. So I would see the precinct as a way of activating intellectual discovery and curiosity to create more economic and social value.”
Ben Vivekanandan explained that Melbourne’s current and forecasted rate of growth meant that the city needed centres other than the CBD.
“With Melbourne growing as a city and the challenges it’s facing with the growing pains, we need to find solutions to the policy challenges of how to find an area where people have short travel times to work, can find stimulating work, have the amenity around them so they can enjoy their lifestyle without having to travel large distances between where they live, work and play.”
"I would see the precinct as a way of activating intellectual discovery and curiosity to create more economic and social value.”
This year has seen some significant announcements that will help supercharge the Monash Precinct.
The Victorian government has committed full funding to the establishment of the Victorian Heart Hospital on the Clayton campus. The VHH will be Australia’s leading centre for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and innovation of Australia’s leading cause of death, cardiovascular disease, and builds on Monash Health’s established reputation for expertise. That commitment has already seen potential industry and university partners approach Monash University, interested in collaboration.
The state and federal governments have also committed to both light and heavy rail initiatives that will make the precinct more accessible and more attractive in lifestyle terms.
Asked for their opinion of the Monash Precinct and what it needs to offer and achieve if it wants to be recognised on a global scale, the Global Leaders were unanimously positive towards the idea, though with many questions, particularly relating to Monash’s geographical isolation and how that would affect attracting the top people.
Many of the comments were about the liveability of the area and how it would need to offer a great place to live as well as work.
They also said it would need to have one of the smartest, integrated, technically advanced environments. Every bus and taxi should be electric, for example, and there should be a digital transformation that allows connection to the world in a seamless way.
The Monash Precinct should be known for innovation, not just for best in practice and the “wow factor” of its academics and staff, but for the whole precinct as an innovation hub, working with industry, bringing in corporates, creating jobs and creating a great corporate environment.
Looking forward 20 years, it’s obvious that the centre of Melbourne can’t be the only focal point of the city. The knowledge and value that’s already been created at Monash University and the region around it makes a great claim for the Monash Precinct to be a distinctive part of the future for Victoria and Australia. But it can’t be done in a purely self-serving way, because that will just create a nice space for the people around it. The ability to be effective on a global scale will be muted.
The Monash Precinct’s success relies on activating relationships and partnerships, and this is part of the reason it was presented at the Global Leaders’ Summit.
Monash alumni, spread across the world, are an important driver of connectivity, the way of taking the Monash Precinct out into the world where the largest markets lie.
As Professor Gardener told the summit attendees: “You are our way of talking to the world.”